Guys get kicked in the nuts a lot in Johnny English Reborn, a movie that is nominally a spoof on James-Bond-like spy movies.
Really, though, it’s a movie about the expression guys make when something hits their frank and beans. Also, it’s about general buffoonery with a side plot about how hilarious it is to bong an old woman in the head repeatedly with a serving tray.
Johnny English (Rowan Atkinson), a character who starred in a movie from 2003 that I have absolutely no memory of, was once a member of super-secret British spy service MI7. But as a result of some disaster in Mozambique, he has been kicked out and is now holed up in a Buddhist monastery-looking place learning to find inner strength (this involves many bits-and-pieces-related sight gags). But once again Her Majesty’s service needs him and he is brought back to headquarters, where his boss, code-named Pegasus (Gillian Anderson), sends him to meet with Fisher, a former CIA agent (Richard Schiff), in China. Fisher informs him that he is part of a conspiracy of three men who are highly paid assassins and can carry out seemingly impossible tasks, such as the assassination of the Chinese premier during an upcoming state visit with the British prime minister. Johnny English doesn’t believe him but then Fisher is killed and English is hot on the trail of the killer and the other two members of the conspiracy. Helping him is the young Agent Tucker (Daniel Kaluuya), an eager new agent who is both impressed and a bit exasperated by English, and Kate (Rosamund Pike), a profiler at MI7. Johnny English is supremely confident and thinks he’ll be able to solve the case no problem, but he’s dazzled by Ambrose (Dominic West), the new hot-shot agent at MI7.
So there are things in this world that I simply don’t understand. Statistics — I washed out of that class pretty hard. Also, how to put on eyeliner without poking myself in the eye. How to consistently make bread that isn’t a dense little brick — I can do it sometimes but not always and I don’t fully understand what separates the successes from the failures. Let’s add to this the Johnny English and Mr. Bean movies. Maybe it’s one of those things you have to be exposed to young, like Mandarin or gymnastics. I watched Three Stooges movies as a kid and still find them funny. Maybe if there had been some Rowan Atkinson in my young life I would be able to appreciate his films now. Sadly, there wasn’t and I don’t. I mean, I understand, intellectually, that the guy kicking the other guy in the nuts is supposed to cause the audience to react by laughing. But something about the way foot hits jewels here just doesn’t make it happen for me.
For other people, yes. Others in the audience I saw this movie with guffawed with contentment. I just looked again at my cell phone to see how much time had elapsed (usually, about two minutes) since I last looked.
I understand, however, why people might see this movie. It is one bit of slapstickery after another. It is, as far as I can remember, completely child-appropriate for someone, say, age 8 or 9 and old enough to understand that just because the funny man can bong someone in the head doesn’t mean they can do it to their younger sibling. It is harmless — well, I felt harmed but, as with dental surgery, it was a temporary pain that I kept reminding myself would eventually end — and basically inoffensive. It does have one funny line (I won’t spoil it, but it comes at the end and touches on the British feelings toward the Swiss). I just sincerely hope, for all the other non-eyeliner-wearing, statistics-flunking people like me, there are some better options when you head to the theater for your all-ages entertainment. D+
Rated PG for mild action violence, rude humor, some language and brief sensuality. Directed by Oliver Parker and written by William Davies, with a screenplay by Hamish McColl (from characters by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade), Johnny English Reborn is an hour and 41 minutes long and distributed by Universal Pictures.